Queen – Jazz – Rockin’ Out with Fat Bottomed Girls

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More Jazz

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

There is a tendency in the recording to be a little “hot” tonally on the vocals and snare. The better copies like this one keep it under control, with the lesser copies getting much too lean and gritty to play loudly. What good is a raver like Fat Bottomed Girls if you can’t turn it up and really rock out with it? 

Roy Thomas Baker is back on the scene here for Jazz, his first production with the band since 1975’s A Night at the Opera, and the last time he would work with Freddie and the boys.

On side one check out the low harmony vocal on the first track. The big kick drum is also a treat. RTB loves his bass, that’s for sure.

Both sides should have an open, extended top end and a solid, rich bottom. Our best copies were big and clear with plenty of rock bottom end and Whomp Factor.

We Love Dynamic Choruses, and These Are Amazing

This is one of the rare pop/rock albums that dramatically changes levels as it moves from the verses to the choruses of many its songs, especially the anthemic Fat Bottomed Girls. Mustapha, the first track on side one, has a huge finish as well. It can take a record like this to open your ears to how compressed practically every rock album you own is.

The sad fact of the matter is that most mixes for rock and pop recordings are just too safe. The engineers and producers believe that the mixes have to be safe for the average (read: crap) stereo to play the record.

We like when music gets loud. It gets loud in live performance — why shouldn’t most of that wonderful energy make it to the record? (more…)

Deep Purple – Mark I & II – Reviewed in 2009

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More Mark I & II

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This is a Minty looking EMI Import Double LP. It’s a compilation with a single LP dedicated to each era of the band’s early history. As with any compilation some tracks sound better than others here but don’t let the German sourced tapes scare you. These sound like really high quality tapes, close to, if not the actual, master tapes.

The second LP features the most recognizable and probably best lineup (Mark II) the band ever had, with songs such as Black Knight, Speed King, Smoke on the Water and Highway star, to name but a few. 

Bill Evans – I Will Say Goodbye

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  • Bill Evans’ 1980 release makes its Hot Stamper debut with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Rich, smooth, sweet, and wonderfully natural, this is the sound we love here at Better Records
  • 4 stars: ” For his final Fantasy album, Evans, bassist Eddie Gómez, and drummer Eliot Zigmund perform memorable renditions of such songs as Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance”… Fine post-bop music from an influential piano giant.

This vintage Fantasy pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with this trio, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the best sides of I Will Say Goodbye have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes even as late as 1980
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

What We’re Listening For on I Will Say Goodbye

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

The Players

Bill Evans – piano
Eddie Gómez – bass
Eliot Zigmund – drums

TRACK LISTING

Side One

 Will Say Goodbye
Dolphin Dance
Seascape
Peau Douce

Side Two

I Will Say Goodbye (Take 2)
The Opener
Quiet Light
A House Is Not A Home

AMG 4 Star Review

The title refers to the Michel Legrand piece performed twice on the date, and to the fact that pianist Bill Evans was on the verge of switching labels from Fantasy to Warner Bros. For his final Fantasy album, Evans, bassist Eddie Gómez, and drummer Eliot Zigmund perform memorable renditions of such songs as Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance,” Johnny Mandel’s “Seascape,” and Burt Bacharach’s underrated “A House Is Not a Home.” Fine post-bop music from an influential piano giant.

Tchaikovsky / Violin Concerto / Grumiaux – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This White Hot Two-Pack of the most well-known and beloved violin concerto in the classical repertoire gives you a TOP performance with TOP quality sound from first note to last. No single copy had two sides as good as these, so we’ve combined two LPs to bring you the best Tchaicovsky Violin Concerto ever to hit the site.

In choosing these two sides we put special emphasis on the sound of the violin. Many copies suffered from a slight screechiness to the sound of the instrument, but we present here a violin that is rich and sweet, yet retains the full pallette of its complex harmonics.

Side One – Record One

A++, with Tubey Magic to die for. The sound is rich, with a bit of tube smear that does little damage to the overall sound. Big space, a solid bottom, and plenty of dynamic energy are in evidence throughout the side. There’s so much energy that, in comparison to some copies, this side almost sounded like it was running fast!

Side two of this LP earned a grade of A+ — it’s too smeary and dark for our taste. (more…)

II – Our History with Led Zeppelin’s Rock Classic from 1990 – 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This pressing just knocked us out from beginning to end — this is the Zep II sound you want. 

At least 80% of the copies we buy these days — for many hundreds of dollars each I might add — go right back to the seller. The biggest problem we run into besides obvious scratches that play and worn out grooves is easy to spot: just play the song Thank You at the end of side one. Most of the time there is inner groove damage so bad that the track becomes virtually unlistenable.

It’s become a common dealbreaker for the records we buy on the internet. We get them in, we play that track, we hear it distort and we pack the record up and sent it back to the seller.

But this copy plays clean all the way to the end on both sides — assuming you have a highly-tweaked, high-performance front end of course.

After we heard this copy sound so good and play so well we decided it was time to set a record here at Better Records for the most expensive record to ever hit the site.

Turn It Up!

This is undoubtedly one of the best, maybe THE best hard rock recording of all time, but you need a good pressing if you’re going to unleash anything approaching its full potential. We just conducted a shootout and heard MUCH more bad sound than good. You name it — imports, reissues, originals — we’ve played ’em, and most of them were TERRIBLE. (Especially the non-RL originals. That’s some of the worst sound we’ve ever heard. If you see a “J” stamper run for your life.)

The best copies of Zep II have the kind of rock and roll firepower that’s guaranteed to bring any system to its knees. I can tell you with no sense of shame whatsoever that I do not have a system powerful enough to play this record at the levels I was listening to it at in one of our shootouts a while back. When the big bass comes in, hell yeah it distorts. It would have distorted worse at any concert the band ever played. Did people walk out, or ask the band to turn down the volume? No way. The volume IS the sound.

That’s what the album is trying to prove. This recording is a statement by the band that they can fuse so much sonic power into a piece of vinyl that no matter what stereo you own, no matter how big the speakers, no matter how many watts you think you have, IT’S NOT ENOUGH.

The music will be so good you be unable to restrain yourself from turning it up louder, and louder, and still louder, making the distortion you hear an intoxicating part of the music. Resistance, as well all know, is futile.

The louder you play a top copy the better it sounds. Turn up Moby Dick as loud as you can. Now it’s starting to sound like the real thing. But drum kits play FAR LOUDER than any stereo can, so even as loud as you can play it isn’t as loud as the real thing. This is in itself a form of distortion, a change from the original sound.

If at the end of a side you don’t feel like you’ve just been run over by a freight train, you missed out on one of the greatest musical experiences known to man: Led Zeppelin at ear-splitting levels. If you missed them in concert, and I did, this is the only way to get some sense of what it might have been like. (Assuming of course that you have the room, the speakers and all the other stuff needed to reproduce this album. Maybe one out of fifty systems I’ve ever run into fits that bill. But we’re all trying, at least I hope we are, and it’s good to have goals in life, even ones you can never reach.)

Zep II: None Rocks Harder

This has to be the hardest rocking rock album of all time. As you will read below, the best copies — often with the same stampers as the not-as-good copies by the way — have a LIFE and a POWER to them that you just don’t find on many records. Almost none in fact. And certainly I have never heard a CD that sounded remotely like this. I doubt that day will ever come. As long as we have records like this, what difference does it make?

Happy Hunting!

Few clean copies of Zeps Classic First Five Albums can be found in stores these days, and the prices keep going up with no end in sight. The bins full of minty LPs by Pink Floyd, The Stones, Zep, The Beatles, The Who and Classic Rock Artists in general are a thing of the past. The cost of picking up a minty looking copy that sounds like crap or is full of groove damage is considerable to us. Lucky for you, we buy those records so you don’t have to.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Whole Lotta Love

This album is unique in one sense: both sides of ZEP II start our with MONSTER ROCK AND ROLL tracks with unbelievable dynamics, energy and bass. Most bands would be lucky to get one song like this on an album. This album has about five!

The middle section with the cymbals and panning instruments is key to the best copies. When it starts they goose the volume — not subtly mind you — and a big room opens up in which everything starts bouncing around, reflecting off the walls of the studio. It’s a cool effect, there’s no denying it.

This is the loudest, most dynamic cut on side one. If it doesn’t knock you out, keep turning up the volume and playing it again until it does.

What Is and What Should Never Be

Amazing presence. Plant is right there!

The Lemon Song

The bass parts always sounded muddy on the sub-gen copies I often found. The definition and note-like quality here is superb and it’s only on these good originals.

There are real dynamics here — the middle part is at a much lower level than the guitars that follow. This song, like so many on II, is really designed to assault you, to give you the sense that guitars are being broken over your head. That’s the kind of power this track has. It’s also relatively smooth and sweet compared to the rest of the album as a whole.

Thank You

Side Two

Heartbreaker

Side two seems to be cut a little lower than side one, so add about a DB to the volume or this side will sound a bit tame. Again, big and dynamic. These are the BIGGEST, MOST POWERFUL GUITARS I have ever heard on a record. Most copies sound good. The Hot Stampers show you that those big guitars are a lot bigger than you thought.

Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)
Ramble On

Some copies are super transparent, and in some ways that really works on this track, where Plant’s voice can get a bit lost in the mix. But they don’t have the oomph down below, which is why they sound clearer in the midrange. The amazing copies have so much weight and power down there, some clarity in the middle has to suffer. But the power of the music requires prodigous amounts of bass. Without that bass you have just another rock record, not The Monster Rock and Roll Record of All Time. Big difference.

Moby Dick

Bring It on Home

When those guitars come in, look out! Another out of control rocker.

Zep II: 1990 – 2010

Here’s the story of my first encounter with a Hot Stamper Zep II.

I had a friend who had come into possession of a White Label Demo pressing of the second album and wanted to trade it in to me for the Mobile Fidelity pressing that I had played for him once or twice over the years, and which we both thought was The King on that album.

To my shock and dismay, his stupid American copy KILLED the MoFi. It TROUNCED it in every way. The bass was deeper and punchier. Everything was more dynamic. The vocals were more natural and correct sounding. The highs were sweeter and more extended. The whole pressing was just full of life in a way that the Mobile Fidelity wasn’t.

The Mobile Fidelity didn’t sound Bad. It sounded Not As Good. More importantly, in comparison with the good domestic copy, in many ways it now sounded Wrong.

Let me tell you, it was a milestone event in my growth as a record collector. I had long ago discovered that many MoFi’s weren’t all they were cracked up to be. But this was a MoFi I liked. And it had killed the other copies I had heard in the past.

So I learned something very important that day. I learned that hearing a good pressing is the best way to understand what’s wrong with a bad pressing..

Needless to say, the trade didn’t go through: he kept his copy and I was stuck with mine. But I knew what to look for. I knew what the numbers were in the dead wax. And I started hunting them down.

Our Review of the Mobile Fidelity Zep II

This pressing has to be one of the worst audiophile remastering jobs in the history of the world. There is NOT ONE aspect of the sound that isn’t wrong. Not one!

The highs are boosted, the upper midrange is boosted, the mid-bass is boosted, the low bass is missing — what part of the frequency spectrum is even close to correct on this pressing? The answer: none.

Other Pressings

I used to sell the Atlantic German import reissue LPs years ago. At the time I thought they we’re pretty good, but then the Japanese Analog Series came out and I thought those we’re the best. Boy was I wrong. Those Japanese pressings, I realize now, are way too bright. Surprisingly, the German reissues sound more or less correct to me now. They’re tonally balanced from top to bottom, which is more than you can say for 9 out of 10 Led Zep II’s. Yes, you can do better, but it ain’t going to be easy.

And of course the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl pressing is an absolute DISASTER — a ridiculously bright, ridiculously crude, completely unlistenable piece of garbage.

Vivaldi / The 4 Seasons / Munchinger – Reviewed in 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This Hot Stamper London Whiteback is certainly no Demo Disc by any means. That said, the sound is quite good, with correct tonality from top to bottom. The perspective is somewhat recessed and the sound could use more top end extension, but the instruments sound natural and musical and that alone puts it well ahead of the pack in the world of classical recordings. Relaxed and enjoyable throughout.

As I recall the performance here is a bit more lively than it is on the famous RCA (LSC 2424).

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin I – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2014

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame. 

It’s hard to imagine any copy beating this one! The vinyl is Mint Minus throughout, and the sound is INSANELY GOOD! The chances of finding these surfaces with this sound — we’ll let you do the math. If you’re a fan of this album – and who isn’t – this is the copy you want. Side one blew our minds and earned a grade of A++++!

  • A truly stunning copy, with top grades and exceptionally quiet vinyl
  • We gave side one here a Four Plus grade, going way beyond what we were expecting – the soundstage is absolutely huge
  • Triple Plus sound for side two, incredible in its own right with super high resolution and plenty sweet, rich Tubey Magic
  • A 5 star album in the AMG, and a true classic 

More A++++ Hot Stamper Pressings.

Outliers

Our lengthy commentary entitled Outliers & Out of This World Sound talks about how rare these kinds of pressings are and how to go about finding them.


This is the band’s Masterpiece as well as a Desert Island Disc for yours truly.

What qualifies a record to be a Masterpiece needs no explanation. We will make every effort to limit the list to one entry per artist or group, although some exceptions have already occurred to me, so that rule will no doubt be broken from time to time. As Ralph Waldo Emerson memorably noted, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…”

For a record to come to my Desert Island Disc, said record:

1) Must have at some time during my fifty years as a music lover and audio hobbyist been played enthusiastically, fanatically even, causing me to feel what Leonard Bernstein called “the joy of music;”
2) My sixty-something-year-old self must currently respect the album, and;
3) I must think I will want to listen to the music on the album fairly often and well into the future (not knowing how long I may be stranded there).

How many records meet the Desert Island Disc criteria? Certainly many more than you can see when you click on the link, but new titles are constantly being added, time permitting.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Good Times Bad Times
Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
You Shook Me
Dazed and Confused

Side Two

Your Time Is Gonna Come
Black Mountain Side
Communication Breakdown
I Can’t Quit You Baby
How Many More Times

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

Led Zeppelin had a fully formed, distinctive sound from the outset, as their eponymous debut illustrates. Taking the heavy, distorted electric blues of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Cream to an extreme, Zeppelin created a majestic, powerful brand of guitar rock constructed around simple, memorable riffs and lumbering rhythms. But the key to the group’s attack was subtlety: it wasn’t just an onslaught of guitar noise, it was shaded and textured, filled with alternating dynamics and tempos.

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin I – Our Shootout Winner from 2007 (a Long Time Ago!)

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame. 

YOU WON’T BELIEVE HOW HARD THIS ZEP I ROCKS! It’s exceedingly tough to find great copies of this album, which is why you’ve never seen a Hot Stamper copy on the site before. We went through more than two dozen copies looking for The Real Sound, and this copy’s got it big time… ON BOTH SIDES!

For the real Led Zep magic, you just can’t do much better than the debut — and here’s a copy that really shows you why. From the opening chords of Good Times Bad Times to the wild ending of How Many More Times, this copy will have you rockin’ out!

Two Superb Sides

Side one has got THE BIG ZEP SOUND. Right from the start, we noticed how clean the cymbals sounded and how well-defined the bass was, after hearing way too many copies with smeared cymbals and blubbery bass. When you have a tight, punchy copy like this one, Good Times Bad Times does what it is supposed to do — it REALLY ROCKS! It’s just a bit bright, and there’s a little spit to the vocals, but with this much life, it’s light years aheads of the typically dull, dead, boring copy. The drum sound is PERFECTION.

Drop the needle on Babe I’m Gonna Leave You to hear how amazing Robert Plant’s voice sounds. It’s breathy and full-bodied with unbelievable presence. The overall sound is warm, rich, sweet, and very analog, with tons of energy. Dazed and Confused sounds JUST RIGHT — you’re gonna flip out over all the ambience! We rate side one A++ — incredible!

As amazing as side one is, side two is EVEN BETTER — it’s got MASTER TAPE SOUND with amazing tubey magic. What do you get on an A+++ Zep I side? Uncanny presence, clearer harmonics and transients, a fully extended top end, astonishing clarity and transparency and a WHOLE LOTTA BASS. You get all the texture, detail, and ambience that are missing from the average copy. Communication Breakdown sounds superb — the sound of Jimmy Page’s guitar during the solo is Right On The Money! You won’t find a better side two for this album, and we’ve rated it accordingly, A+++ all the way.

Imports — As Always, A Mixed Bag

I have numerous early pressings from England and Germany and, of course, no two of them sound the same. My A1/B1 British Plum and Orange label turned out to be very good, but not in a league with the very best. Other British originals didn’t even make it past the first round. It just goes to show (again) that you can’t figure out too much about a record by looking at the label — you’ve got to play ’em to know how they sound.

Where’s The Beef?

Like any Zeppelin album, this music absolutely requires BIG BASS. Yet so many copies are sorely lacking in that area, suffering from a lack of weight in the bottom end. When some of the deep bass is missing, the tonal balance shifts upwards and the sound can become upper midrangy and bright. That was my first impression of side one, but I realized the bass was at fault, not the highs. When you get a copy without the kind of big, meaty bottom end a track like Dazed and Confused demands, you’ll be left cold — just as we were from all the weak copies we heard this time around.

One Tough Ticket

Beyond that, most copies of this album we come across are thrashed beyond belief. It’s hard enough to find a copy that’s quiet enough to sell, let alone one with amazing sound. It’s why you almost never see any copy of this album on our site — Hot Stamper or not. This copy has slightly noisy edges on both sides, but quiets down quickly to play between Mint Minus and Mint Minus Minus.

Didn’t You Used To Like The Classic?

Yup, and we still do — albeit with reservations. The Classic actually rocks, something a majority of pressings we’ve played just can’t do. If you don’t have the time to acquire a couple dozen domestic and import copies, and you don’t have the bread for a pricey Better Records Hot Stamper, the Classic is probably your best bet. But on a high-resolution front-end, you’ll start to notice some problems with Bernie’s version. For one thing, the vocals just aren’t as natural as they are on a Hot Stamper copy. A major highlight of this album is how amazing Robert Plant’s voice was before years of touring and, no doubt, partying took their toll. If you want to hear that voice at its best, there’s just no substitute for a Hot Stamper Zep I.

Here’s what I said about the Classic a while back:

This version is a little (deep) bass shy — 2 or 3 db at 40 helps a lot — but it’s cleaner and more dynamic than any other copy I have heard. Things get loud on this version that never got loud before. And that is, to quote one of my competitors, awesome!

Maybe Bernie trimmed the bass because it’s distorted, which would be a mistake, as the distortion is on the tape and rolling off the bottom end solves nothing. Zep II is the same way, maybe even more so.

Since 90% of all the audiophile systems I’ve ever heard were bass shy this may not be as obvious as it should be. But Led Zeppelin without deep punchy bass emasculates the music in such a fundamental way that it’s hard to imagine this album could have much effect on its audience without it. It’s called head banging music for a reason. Like Wayne, Garth and their buddies driving down the road in Wayne’s World, when it’s really rocking you have an uncontrollable desire to bang your head up and down to the beat, and you need bass to make it rock.

Astrud Gilberto – Beach Samba

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  • An outstanding copy of Beach Samba, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from top to bottom 
  • The soundstage is huge, and the overall quality of the recording is big and bold like you will not believe
  • Creed Taylor (the CTI man) produced, Don Sebesky and Deodato did the arrangements, and Val Valentin engineered – what’s not to like?
  • “This 1967 Verve LP has the breezy bossa novas and sambas Astrud was famed for, but also a Lovin’ Spoonful duet with her young son and some seriously impressive scatting, too.” – Amazon

(more…)